Artificial Intelligence: The European Space Agency Will Use AI to Burn Space Debris

November 12, 2020 | Artificial Intelligence, News

The European Space Agency (ESA) is setting its sights on trapping a piece of space junk 660 km above the Earth.

The European Space Agency is embarking on its first mission to remove space debris from orbit. At a rough estimate, about 34,000 pieces of junk are presently orbiting the Earth, and their presence is a danger to space missions carrying cargo and humans. At risk also are expensive satellites that perform essential services for mankind such as communications, weather prediction, and the Internet. The ESA’s first target is to recover an obsolete payload adapter – the Vespa Upper Part – that is currently orbiting at 660 km above the Earth. (EPFL)

Recovering the Vespa payload adapter

The Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter) Upper Part (see in the picture above) was once a part of the European space agency’s Vega Rocket.

The mission objective is to trap the Vespa within the robotic arms of a capture rocket. It will then pull it back into the Earth’s atmosphere and allow it to burn up in a controlled and safe manner.

Three key problems arise in this endeavor.

  • First, the capture rocket’s cameras (its ‘eyes’) must reliably recognize the Vespa. Note that nobody has seen that object for over seven years as it’s been spinning in a vacuum in space.
  • Second, the robotic arms must reach precisely the exact location of Vespa from the correct angle
  • Third, to perform and manage the recovery operation out in space in real-time and with limited onboard computing power.

Clearspace and AI

This groundbreaking project is being tackled by Clearspace, an offshoot spun off from the EPFL Space Centre. Its mandate is to develop technologies to capture and deorbit space debris.

The mission to recover the Vespa upper part is set for 2025. Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms will play a central role in the project.

Deep learning algorithms are training to recognize the Vespa using synthetic images in great detail, even including the Earth as a backdrop. To help the algorithm recognize Vespa, the scientists are generating synthetic images of the target debris. To do this they are using samples of aluminum and carbon fiber panels – the material of its construction.

They are generating synthetic images using a goniophotometer.

“This is a large robotic device that spins around a test swatch to simultaneously illuminate and observe it from many different directions, providing us with a wealth of information about the material’s appearance,” says Assistant Professor Wenzel Jakob, head of EPFL’s Realistic Graphics Lab.

To solve the second problem regarding the angle and approach for the capture of the Vespa, again it is AI to the rescue.

The scientists are developing deep learning algorithms to “reliably estimate the 6D pose (3 rotations and 3 translations) of the target from video-sequences even though images taken in space are difficult.”

The team is now transferring the deep learning algorithms to a dedicated hardware platform. Note that these algorithms need to be sophisticated enough to work autonomously in space. Their complexity puts a massive strain on computational resources.

“Their implementation requires squeezing out all the performance from the platform resources,” says Prof David, Atienza, head of EPFL’s Embedded Systems Lab.

Related Story:     Intel First To Deploy AI “On Edge” In Space

Free Industry News

Subscribe to our free newsletter for updates and news about alternatives investments.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


Latest Alternative Investment News
Alternative Investments/ESG: TD Asset Management Launches Three New Equity ETFS With ESG Focus

TD Asset Management announced Tuesday the launch of three new ESG Equity ETFs to cater to investors looking for exposure to equity market indexes and companies with an ESG edge….
Digital Assets: “The Real Story Is Adoption,” Says Novogratz On Bitcoin
December 2, 2020     Digital Assets, News

Speaking Tuesday on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Mike Novogratz, CEO of Galaxy Digital, said large investors appeared to be switching their gold holdings to bitcoin, judging from the outflows seen recently…
Venture Capital: Voi, Swedish Maker Of E-Scooters, Closes On $160M Funding
December 2, 2020     News, Venture Capital

Voi Technology’s haul of $160 million is a mix of debt and equity in a Series C round led by The Raine Group, with participation by existing investors such as…
FinTech: Top Chinese Regulatory Watchdog Airs Fintech Concerns
December 2, 2020     FinTech, News, Regulations

In an article in a newly released book from the central government explaining the country’s economic priorities and development plan for 2035, Guo warned of a disturbance in global financial…